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Godless | A Review | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | July 29, 2006

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"Once man's connection to the divine is denied, you can reason yourself from here to anywhere." -- Ann Coulter, Godless

I.

A witty and intelligent book written by an attractive woman is, under most circumstances, news. When it is written by a Christian, it may be "bad" news, especially if it suggests that our culture has now replaced most signs of Christianity with something called "liberalism," of a rather militant variety, one that is constantly worried about everyone else's tendencies to fascism but its own. This latter doctrine, as it is propagated and practiced by its most articulate and strategically entrenched advocates, is quite incompatible with said Christianity on most basic issues. Christians themselves are often both slow and loathe to realize that there is really a fundamental problem. They love to be liked, even by their enemies, something not even Scripture requires of them. Indeed, it warns them not to be deceived about who is for them and who is against them.

The book becomes downright scandalous, moreover, if it insists on being logical and funny, as well as speaking of issues that are not usually allowed much play in the schools or in the popular media. Issues such as?--that little real scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution exists, that most liberals are quite illiberal when it comes to allowing for and engaging in serious analysis of their own positions, that men and women are really happily different and meant to be so.

Such a book is Ann Coulter's Godless: The Church of Liberalism (New York: Crown Forum, 2006). Coulter maintains, with considerable evidence, humor, and persuasiveness, that, contrary to what we are often led to think, there is an established "religion" in this country (elsewhere also). But it is not Christianity. This pseudo-"religion" has its own doctrines, its own established and self-appointed clergy, its own commandments and prohibitions, its own censorship, its own blind faith, its own scripture, its own official interpreters, its own press and schools, its own enforcers. Or, to use Coulter's own words, "liberals love to boast that they are not 'religious,' which is what one would expect to hear from the state-sanctioned religion. Of course liberalism is a religion. It has its own cosmology, its own miracles, its own beliefs in the supernatural, its own churches, its own high priests, its own saints, its own total worldview, and its own explanation of the existence of the universe." The only real problem, which is what this book is about, is whether such espoused positions are true. Those who maintain that all truth must be first filtered through peer evaluation and in approved university presses need read no further. The only thing that recommends this book to public attention is logic.

Coulter arrives at this position by reading what popular liberalism's advocates do and hold, by seeing how they explain themselves, not by reading how others see them. Nor does she think that because liberalism does not admit that it is itself a "religion," and therefore is not obliged to play the same constitutional game that other religions are required to follow, that it is not thereby, in every sociological sense, a legally established "religion." By its own testimony, it is "godless." But this admission is no "self-evident" proof at all that it does not function as an established and privileged "religion," to use that noble word in an analogous sense. Indeed, more "true believers" with "blind" faith exist among the liberals on the lack of truth-evidence for most of their doctrines than are ever found among the hapless Christians. The latter do not allow that their faith and reason contradict each other or that it would make no difference if they did. The inherent contradictions of the liberal mind are the raw material of this book. The arguments will not go away.

Though rather more pointed in her examination of the positions that typical advocates of contemporary liberalism (the cult has many shades) take, Coulter reminds one at times of Chesterton, whom she cites at least once. Most of the main points of her insightful discussion of blind evolutionism were already found in Chesterton's Everlasting Man. The difference is that when Chesterton hit you with a left hook, you thought it was a pat on the back, but with Coulter, you know it is a left hook. Coulter--and who can blame her?--finds it difficult to resist laughing at a stuffy professor, an ill-informed journalist, or a biased and compromised politician, especially a famous one, who simply contradicts either himself or simple logical rules. Even when you are reduced to denying reason and logic as operative in the universe, as modern liberalism is often forced to do to keep a pretense of consistency, the suspicion persists that you still sound silly.

This bemusement over stated and living absurdities is why Coulter loves Edward Kennedy, Michael Moore, the Clintons, Cindy Sheehan, Peter Singer, the NEA, the New York Times, and, in general, the pro-abortion stances of the Democratic Party. Liberals have long been known as the world's most humorless people, especially about themselves. The first thing to keep in mind in reading Ann Coulter's book is this: do not let the humor deceive you into thinking that no precise intellectual point is being made in the laughter. Chesterton famously said that, in spite of what dour folks often think, no contradiction exists between being funny and being reasonable. In fact, the only way you can be funny is also to be reasonable, a truth that suggests that at the origin of things there is joy, not nothingness out of which all things somehow burst forth for no reason whatsoever.

Some, especially those who maintain indefensible positions in their own souls, no doubt will find Coulter's wit "uncharitable" or "unkind." This reaction will mistakenly serve as a reason not to take this book seriously as a much-needed public examination of conscience about what is happening within our body politic and within our souls. But this reaction gets into the question of whether today there is any more effective way of waking us up to the inconsistencies in this "established religion" of liberalism other than wit, particularly the wit of a lady who has obviously done her homework and studied what the "objects of her affection" are really saying.

Coulter did not, I believe, as Chesterton did, come to Christianity itself by exclusively reading the heretics to see how inconsistent they were, especially when discussing Christianity. He noted that they were often also inconsistent in discussing rocks and apes, especially whether apes drew pictures on rock walls of caves. But Coulter did recognize the probative validity of Christianity by reading the claims to "truth" that liberals present to justify their own positions. She found that far from objectively presenting truth and defending it on the basis of reason, that liberalism, as it exists in the public forum, is based more on lying than on truth. One of the most striking aspects of this book is the place of the lie in public discourse, especially lies about the grounds of belief in ultimate things. The lies about the origin and nature of human life itself, of course, are notorious.

II.

We slow-to-comprehend Catholics have long heard from our thinkers, especially from such figures as Augustine, Aquinas, and the current Pope, that there are cultural consequences to relativism and materialism, even when it is called liberalism. By examining theories and regimes of tolerance and multiculturalism, which are often today simply code names for relativism, Catholics in particular have sought to come to grips with the relation of mind to reality. John Paul's Fides et Ratio and Robert Sokolowski's Christian Faith and Human Understanding are probably the most recent and best statements of the seriousness of this issue and what to do about it. We have also heard and maintain that the Church's positions on reason and faith are quite intelligent and do not contradict each other. Indeed, this principle of non-contradiction is the basis of any adequate understanding of Christianity, science, and reason. This position means not merely that what revelation teaches must be carefully and accurately considered, while remaining what it is, but also that reason cannot itself become a kind of free-flowing cloud that has no grounding in reality to which it is obligated to pay attention.




In this context, Ann Coulter's book is a useful polemic as it spells out the most obvious areas in which so many politically correct positions reveal their fundamental flaws. Whether it be the death penalty, the purpose of prison, war, life issues, or intelligence issues, Coulter almost uncannily manages to put her finger on the core issue that reveals a problem when reason and common sense conflict with liberal ideology. A lawyer, she is especially good on courts and other instruments by which the liberal agenda has bypassed the electorate. The chapter on public schools and their amazing record of declining performance combined with demands for increased salaries is most sobering and ironic. Relative to the time they work and their benefits, teachers in public schools are not at all underpaid and certainly not "under vacationed." Indeed, they are well paid compared to most folk who have to work for a living. The problem is not money but performance of students under their care. Coulter frequently points out how private and Catholic schools have a much smaller ratio of bureaucracy and much lower teacher salaries, but a much higher student performance ratio.

But the one line of thought that goes through this book is this: What happens when God is denied--not what happens to God but what happens to human beings? There may be some illogical non-believers in God who end up still thinking there is a difference between good and evil, life and death, man and animal. But the only reason they can do this is to presume a permanent natural law in nature without a lawgiver. Most people see quite correctly that such a position cannot logically be held. If there is no anchor, there is no limit to what we can and will propose. What this book spells out is what is proposed in the light of a world that, at every juncture, denies a ground for being.

Writers like Dostoyevsky and C. S. Lewis have long implied that this effort to manipulate human nature would come about. That it is coming about is the thesis of this book, or better, that already in place are ideas, practices, and laws that will eliminate what is truly human. This will be done in the name of "improving" our lot. Coulter's discussion of Darwinian evolution's inner incoherence shows how far reaching and inter-connected all of these issues are.

"The fundamental difference between our religion and theirs is that theirs (liberalism) always tells them whatever they want to hear. Like the 'living Constitution,' Darwinism never disappoints liberals," Coulter writes. "The theory itself allows us to do what we want, whatever it is. Christians, however, are happily not free to do whatever they want just because they want it. They are only free to do what is right and know why it is right, why it is for their own good. God is not our secret Santa. His commands are not whatever we want them to be, and the Bible is not a 'living' document. This is why it's always so disorienting when liberals harangue Christians about biblical commands. Unlike the liberal religion, morality exists outside our egoistical, materialistic, fickle, megalomaniacal Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Colin Farrell, Paris Hilton selves. These rules are decreed by a legislator whose opinions are not subject to appeal by the ACLU. We can't discover penumbras that will suddenly allow us to endorse genocide, sex with animals, gay marriage, strip clubs, premarital sex, or whatever the latest liberal fad is. The truth is the truth whether we like it or not."

What man is, then, is not something that can be manipulated into whatever we want him to be. It is not that we cannot do him great damage by trying, by experimenting with the rules. We are doing it every day. Such experiments to change what we are do not improve us, even when we lie to ourselves and claim that they do.

In chronicling the lies, Ann Coulter's book gets at the truth. And in getting at the truth, she is telling us what we seldom hear, the real understanding of what we are. But this is not just a book about the aberrations that are espoused in the name of improving our lot, another version of the utopianism that has attacked us in so many ways in the modern era. As its title paradoxically intimates, it is a book about God as seen in His creation. Liberal and atheist advocates "cling to Darwinism even as the contrary evidence accumulates, because it allows them to ignore God." Chesterton had likewise said something like this, that in the end, those who set out to attack Christianity one ground end up attacking it on every ground no matter what it is because they cannot allow even the slightest admission that it might be true, in conformity also with reason in the highest sense.

The real issue behind the defense of materialism and relativism is God. And the positions that distort, kill, or corrupt the kind of being man is created to be have as their common theme the "non serviam" of the fallen angel in Scripture. There is more than meets the eye, the very sharp and bemused eye, in Ann Coulter's book. Our real struggle is not with flesh and blood, but, in its name, with principalities and powers in so far as we choose to imitate the latter to serve only ourselves. The difference between the fallen angels and those human beings who choose, contrary to the evidence, to be "godless," is that no fallen angel could be precisely "godless." He could only pretend that he was God. We human beings can indeed be "godless," but only at the cost of our humanity. This again is what Godless is about. We do have an established religion, and it is not Christianity.

"Once man's connection with the divine is denied, you can reason yourself from here to anywhere."

Comments? Thoughts? Questions? Share them on the Insight Scoop blog!



Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links:

• IgnatiusInsight.com author page for Joseph Ratziger/Pope Benedict XVI
Are Truth, Faith, and Tolerance Compatible? | Joseph Ratzinger
Author page for Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., with listing of all IgnatiusInsight.com articles
A Short Introduction to Atheism | Carl E. Olson
C.S. Lewis books and resources from Ignatius Press

C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christianity | An Interview with Richard Purtill
The Relevance and Challenge of C. S. Lewis | Mark Brumley
Paganism and the Conversion of C.S. Lewis | Clotilde Morhan
The Thought and Work of C. S. Lewis | Carl E. Olson
Seeking Deep Conversion | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Is Religion Evil? Secularism's Pride and Irrational Prejudice | Carl E. Olson



Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.

He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing, and A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning.

Read more of his essays on his website and on his IgnatiusInsight.com Author Page.



Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!







   




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